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Ricks v. Barnes

March 28, 2007

LAFAYETTE RICKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MPD OFFICER TOMMY BARNES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah A. Robinson United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Pending for consideration by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge is Plaintiff's Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) (Document No. 19) and Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) and Post-Judgment Interest Under 28 U.S.C. § 1961 (Document No. 29). Plaintiff claims that he is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees, costs and post-judgment interest pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d), 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1961, as he "substantially prevailed" in the underlying litigation. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the entire record herein, the undersigned will recommend that the Plaintiff's motions be granted.

BACKGROUND

On September 4, 2004, Defendant Barnes*fn1 arrested Plaintiff after he refused to leave a District of Columbia park after being told to leave. Complaint ¶¶ 13-15, 21. Plaintiff alleges Ricks v. Barnes, et al. 2 that he was peaceful during his arrest, but that Defendant Barnes pushed him to the ground unnecessarily and that his wrist was cut. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Instead of releasing the Plaintiff or making a "citation release" available, Defendant Barnes offered Plaintiff a $25.00 "post and forfeit" option. Id. ¶¶ 29, 37. The Plaintiff had the choice of paying $25.00 or spending a three-day weekend in jail. Id. Plaintiff argues that Defendant Barnes gave him that option because he knew Plaintiff was homeless, most likely did not have the money and would have to be jailed; however, Plaintiff did pay the money and was released. Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.

Plaintiff filed his complaint on September 2, 2005, and made claims of assault and battery, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Id. ¶¶ 54-67. Plaintiff, in his complaint, also claimed that Defendants violated his Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights because the use of "post and forfeit" imposed punishment before a trial and it was an excessive bail and fine (made actionable by 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Id. ¶¶ 68-97.

Defendants served an offer of judgment of $32,000.00, plus attorney's fees and costs available under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which Plaintiff accepted. See Document Nos. 17, 18. The Plaintiff filed his motion for attorneys' fees and costs on February 27, 2006. See Document Number 19. Plaintiff filed his supplemental motion for attorneys' fees and costs on October 31, 2006, to recover the fees and expenses that he incurred since February 27, 2006, in defending and trying to secure the Plaintiff's award and reimbursement for costs and expenses. See Document No. 29.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Plaintiff's counsel seek an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) and 42 U.S.C. § 1988. In support of his motion, Plaintiff's counsel advance three arguments. First, Plaintiff's counsel contend that the hourly rates they have requested are reasonable. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) ("Plaintiff's Mem.") at 5-7. Second, Plaintiff's counsel argue that the hours they have spent litigating this matter are reasonable. Id. at 8-11. Third, Plaintiff's counsel submit that the compensation they seek for the expenses of $786.50 incurred by the law firm are reasonable, as are the attorneys' fees of $83,216.00. Id. at 12.

Defendants, in their opposition, do not dispute Plaintiff's entitlement to attorneys' fees, but contend that the hourly rate and number of hours listed by Plaintiff's counsel are not reasonable, particularly the hourly rates of $475.00 and $365.00 for Mr. Moustakas and Mr. Huitema, respectively. Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs ("Defendants' Opp.") at 6-7. Defendants also contend that the award amount requested by the Plaintiff should be reduced because the documentation of the work performed is inadequate. Id. at 11. Defendants also submit that the award requested should be reduced because Plaintiff's counsel excessively billed for ministerial or administrative tasks. Id. at 19.

In his reply, Plaintiff contends that Defendants failed to "identify a single example" of inadequate documentation of work that was performed. Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) ("Plaintiff's Reply") at 3. Counsel for Plaintiff contend that the Defendants' arguments about Plaintiff's counsel inadequate documentation do not apply to this case, and some are boilerplate language taken Ricks v. Barnes, et al. 4 from an opposition filed by Defendants against Plaintiff's counsel in another case.*fn2 Id. at 4. Plaintiff submits that Defendants, in their opposition, failed to provide sufficient reasons or evidence which would warrant a reduction of the requested award. Id. at 5.

Plaintiff filed his supplemental motion seeking compensation for attorneys' fees, costs and post-judgment interest Plaintiff's counsel had incurred since the filing of the first motion for fees and costs. Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) and Post Judgment Interest Under 28 U.S.C. § 1961 and Memorandum ("Supplemental Motion") at 1. Plaintiff contends he is entitled to post-judgment interest that accrued on the award from February 13, 2006, when the judgment was entered by the court, until September 12, 2006, when the award was paid by the Defendants. Id. at 1, 5. Plaintiff's counsel submit that they also are entitled to attorneys' fees for the work they did in helping the Plaintiff find a solution to his money problem as he waited for the award to be paid, and for the time they spent investigating the cause of the delay in paying the award to Plaintiff. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also seeks attorneys' fees he incurred since filing the initial motion for fees for matters such as responding to defense motions to extend briefing deadlines, preparing a reply to Defendant's Opposition and preparing the supplemental motion. Id. Plaintiff's counsel contend that Defendant District of Columbia has waived its argument as to the billing rates of Goodwin Procter, Plaintiff's counsel's law firm. Id. at 4. In Heard, Plaintiff's counsel represented a party against Defendant District of Columbia in a civil rights action and prevailed. Id. The Defendant Ricks v. Barnes, et al. 5 District of Columbia argued in Heard that Plaintiff's counsel was not entitled to their customary fees because they proved their rates for complex federal litigation, but did not prove that they should receive such rates for federal civil rights litigation. Id. Plaintiff does not believe Defendants can argue that point in this case since "Magistrate Judge Kay reiterated the Circuit's position that there is no meaningful distinction between complex federal litigation and federal civil rights litigation" for determining reasonable attorneys' fees. Id. at 5. Plaintiff submits since the Defendants are using the same arguments as they did in Heard, there is a precedent that their hourly rates are reasonable. Id.

Defendants, in their opposition, contend that the hourly rates that Plaintiff's counsel request are inflated in that they do not normally practice in this area of law, and therefore the Laffey matrix should be applied. Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs ("Supplemental Opp.") at 4. Defendants also contend that Plaintiff has not cited any authority that would cause any rulings made by the court in Heard regarding the reasonableness of the hourly rates of Plaintiff's counsel binding in the present case. Id. at 5. It is the Defendants' contention that the time and fees requested for various tasks are excessive, and that there was no undue delay in paying Plaintiff the award. Id. at 6-7. Defendants submit they had others to pay before paying Plaintiff. Id. at 8. Defendants agree to pay interest that accumulated from February 13, 2006 until September 12, 2006. Id. at 6.

Plaintiff, in his reply, contends that the rates billed by his counsel are reasonable and reflect the skill and experience of his attorneys. Plaintiff's Reply in Support of his Supplemental Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Post-Judgmental Interest ("Supplemental Reply") at 1-4. He also submits that his counsel spent a reasonable amount of ...


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